Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Jon Mantooth was drawn to buy Bulldog Laundry in part by the name
In Athens, “Bulldog” means business.
That’s not a reference to the University of Georgia football team’s state of mind when it takes to the gridiron each week, but rather the trend of small businesses around Athens naming themselves after the town's most beloved team. According to YellowPages.com, 58 businesses in the Athens area have “Bulldog,” “Bulldawg,” “Dawg” or some similar variation in their name.
As a consumer in Athens, you can Bulldog-ify your entire life, buying goods and services from a plethora of companies that carry the moniker. You can store your things at Bulldog Storage and Rental. You can buy a UGA shirt from Bulldog Sporting Goods and wash it at Bulldog Laundry. You can grab a slice from Bulldawg Pizza, a pork sandwich from Dawg Gone Good BBQ or order delivery from many other places in town with Bulldawg Food. You can buy a car at Bulldog Kia, get it washed at Bulldog Car Wash, have it tuned up at Bulldog Automotive and Repair, then catch a ride with Bulldog Limousine while it's in the shop.
The trend of naming businesses after the mascot of a university happens in many big-time college towns. In Auburn, AL, roughly 60 businesses have “Tiger” in the name. Tuscaloosa, AL is home to nearly 30 businesses that include the word “Tide.” And Knoxville, TN is lousy with establishments—roughly 30, to be more precise—whose name includes the word "Vols.”
Conventional wisdom says that a good business name should grab the consumer's attention and won't be confused with a bunch of other establishments. So why are so many businesses in town called the same thing? It has a lot to do with who owns them. Unsurprisingly, many of Athens’ Bulldog businesses are long-established institutions owned by people who attended UGA and remained to work and live in the community.
“I graduated from Georgia, and when I was at Georgia, I bought my stuff at Bulldog Sporting Goods,” says Jay Drudge, ownership partner at Bulldog Sporting Goods.
Bulldog Sporting Goods was opened in 1968 by Woody Chastain, a baseball letterman at the university from 1965–1967 and still an ownership partner, and has remained at the same spot in the heart of Baxter Street ever since. Drudge says he thinks Chastain named the business after the Bulldogs because he wanted to tie it to the town, and nothing says Athens like the Georgia Bulldogs. Consumers inherently know they can buy UGA apparel and merchandise at Bulldog Sporting Goods, and it “naturally drives business” their way, Drudge says.
“The whole town here revolves around the University of Georgia and University of Georgia sports. If it’s not football, it’s basketball. If it’s not basketball, it’s baseball going on," Drudge says. "We’re involved in all those different activities, so having a name that’s tied to the university helps a great deal.”
Having a name tied to the Bulldogs can also help a business's resale value. Jon Mantooth bought Bulldog Laundry on Baxter Street in January and says part of his decision to buy the operation had to do with its name.
“It was one of the things that attracted me to the business," Mantooth says. "I’m from Athens, and I saw the perfect opportunity to own something that is part of Athens culture, part of the Bulldog culture.”
Mantooth, a longtime supporter of UGA athletics, says the name of the business and its location on Baxter Street help drive traffic from students and UGA fans. “It’s a recognized name in the town. It’s real catchy," he says. "And being right here off Milledge, up from the dorms and near the fraternity and sorority houses, we’re in the perfect location for it. I think it helps bring the students. We do tons of the football players, baseball players. Tons of the coaches over there. It brings in a lot of people who are Bulldog fans.”
Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Mantooth isn't the only local business owner who bought a Bulldog business just for the name. Mart Saar has owned Bulldog Limousine for the past 20 years, but the car service was started by a group of UGA students as a taxi service almost 25 years ago.
“I basically just bought the name," Saar says. "The cars that they had were pretty trashed. They were what you think they would be, with students hauling drunks around. But they were already in the phone book, and they had a name, so I bought the name.”
Although Saar and Bulldog Limousine typically cater to university employees and the Athens business sector, he says running a car service is difficult in a town with so many cabs and where services such as Uber are on the rise. With all that competition, Saar says he'd take any advantage he can get. And, in a place where so many residents put an emphasis on shopping locally, having a business people can identify as part of the community helps.
“Everybody would prefer to use local businesses, as opposed to someone from out of town," Saar says. "We hire local people and put money back into the community, so it’s a win-win for everybody. And most people around here are Bulldog fans, so it has to help the business when they see the name.”
While the Bulldog name might work for many businesses around town, it isn't right for all of them. Jared Reeves is the owner of Certified Clean Care, which bought Bulldog Carpet and Upholstery earlier this year. Reeves said he considered letting Bulldog Carpet and Upholstery remain a separate entity, but he ended up bringing it under the Certified Clean Care umbrella.
Although Bulldog Carpet and Upholstery technically doesn't exist anymore, Reeves says they still use the brand to help drive business their way. “We’re still in transition mode. If you call the Bulldog phone number, we answer at Certified Clean Care," Reeves says. "We’re using the Bulldog name, at this point in time, to maybe capture some other people we wouldn’t normally capture with Certified Clean Care.”
Reeves decided that Bulldog wasn't right for his business, but he does understand why so many small-business owners would tie their companies to the name. “It can have its benefits, no doubt, because you have people like myself who went to the University of Georgia," he says. "And a lot of the people who work for us attend or have attended the University of Georgia. So it definitely has a benefit as far as people who connect to that school. They want to, in some way, support it.”
Even though it isn't the name of his business, Reeves believes the importance of having Bulldog in the names of businesses around town is less about driving consumers to establishments owned by Georgia fans and more about driving them to local business in general. “It’s good to support the local businesses and the people who went to Georgia and stayed in the community to help build it up,” he says.
The Bulldog name also gives potential customers an indication of who they won't be shopping with—which, in some cases, may be just as important to UGA fans. "I don’t know any Auburn fans who have the word ‘Bulldog’ in their business’s name,” Reeves says.